SSD shrinkage leads to Intel 310 Series


— 6:00 AM on December 29, 2010

Intel has added a fresh line of solid-state drives to its growing portfolio of storage products. This isn't the long-awaited successor to the X25-M family, though. Instead, the new 310 Series brings the X25-M's controller architecture and 34-nano flash to the tiny mini-SATA form factor.

Otherwise known as mSATA, the diminutive SSD form factor pipes Serial ATA signaling over a mini PCI Express connector. Mini is the operative word all around. SSDs in the 310 Series measure just 51 x 30 x 5.8 mm, which is roughly 11% of the volume of 2.5" drives with a 9.5-mm thickness. Even standard 1.8" drives look portly in comparison, being more than four times larger than a 310 Series offering. With a weight of less than 10 grams per SSD, the 310 Series doesn't have much heft, either.

The 310 Series will be available in 40 and 80GB variants. As one might expect, the latter is the quicker of the two. It's rated for 200MB/s sustained reads and 80MB/s writes, while the 40GB drive tops out at 170MB/s for reads and 35MB/s for writes. There's a similar disparity when we look at the drives' performance specifications for random reads and writes. Here's how some key specs compare with a couple of other Intel SSDs:

  310 Series X25-V 40GB X25-M 80GB
40GB 80GB
Sustained reads 170MB/s 200MB/s 170MB/s 250MB/s
Sustained writes 35MB/s 80MB/s 35MB/s 70MB/s
4KB random reads 25k IOps 35k IOps 25k IOps 35k IOps
4KB random writes 2.5k IOps 6.6k IOps 2.5k IOps 6.6k IOps
Idle power 75 mW 75 mW 75 mW 75 mW
Active power 150 mW 150 mW 150 mW 150 mW

The 80GB 310 Series has a higher sustained write speed than its full-size X25-M counterpart but slower sustained reads.  Otherwise, the performance of the 310 Series looks to be on par with that of Intel's 2.5" SSDs.  Given that the drives use similar controllers and flash memory, that parity is to be expected. I'm a little surprised that the 310 Series doesn't have lower power-draw ratings, however.

Although the 310 Series won't be sold as bare or retail-boxed drives to end users, it's already shipping to notebook makers. According to the official press release, which isn't live as I write this, Lenovo is eager to implement the drives in its ThinkPad line. Interestingly, the 310 Series' product literature makes numerous mentions of dual-drive notebook configs that pair the SSDs with traditional 2.5" mechanical storage. Desktop users have been enjoying similar hybrid storage configurations for a while now, and it would be nice to see notebook makers get in on the action.

Doing so won't cost them too much, at least for the drives. Intel says the 40GB 310 Series model runs $99 in 1,000-unit quantities, while its 80GB sibling sells for $179. Those prices make the 310 Series only slightly more expensive than 2.5" Intel SSDs with equivalent capacities.

   
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